19 Things I Learned From Living And Working Abroad For Four Months
I thought traveling the world while still keeping my job was a fantasy. Never did I believe it would become reality.
Hi! I'm Arielle, and from September through December, I lived in Latin America while working remotely at BuzzFeed.
I did this through a program called
Remote Year, and each month, 25 of us lived in a new city/country. Here are all the things I learned from my travel experience!
Disclaimer: BuzzFeed paid for me to do this program, but it is not an advertisement and I was under no obligation to write about my experience.
Remote Year is essentially study abroad for working professionals.
What exactly is Remote Year? It's a travel program you apply for which allows you to work remotely and live in a different country each month. Applicants already have a job or freelance work going into the program. So no, Remote Year does not supply you with income or a job. I
still worked at BuzzFeed and wrote about travel. Some people worked in advertising, some in HR, some in art design, etc (all different companies). Each RY program usually has anywhere from 20-70 people per group.
Normally you pay for the program yourself and ask your employer to approve it. BUT in rare instances, you can potentially
build a case for your employer to front the bill.
Dan Gold / Via
The latter is not common and pretty hard to convince, but it can be done! Whether it's helping your company grow internationally, doing seminars in different countries, or anything that will benefit your employer, that's something to bring up. But typically, you still have to get your manager and HR on your side just to allow you to participate.
And once you apply and put down a deposit, the RY team will help you try to convince your job to let you do the program.
If your job says no and you don't have other remote opportunities, you can get your deposit back. Really no loss. If you inquire about joining, ask the Program Consultant about this.
*But if you don't need employer approval to do Remote Year, then the down payment is non-refundable.
You don't actually have to do RY for an entire year — you can participate in the
Included in the cost is housing, a co-working space, flights/transportation between each city, and several local activities.
Most people give up their apartments when joining Remote Year, so not paying that monthly rent cost (especially in major cities) definitely softens the financial blow of the program. There's also a down payment (prices vary depending on which itinerary you choose), but you're also saving a lot of money by living in typically cheaper cities and countries.
But you DO have to pay for your initial flight out and your flight home.
Still good considering you don't have to pay any extra costs for the flights in between, especially since the program spans from South America, to Europe, to Asia.
Pro tip: Get yourself a good travel credit card (even better if it comes with Priority Pass/lounge access) and add your frequent flyer numbers to all your flights. I personally recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve.
All the housing was actually way nicer than I was expecting. I figured it would be like a questionable hostel situation, but it was nothing like that.
Before you travel to each city, you fill out a survey with your living preferences (women only, private bathroom, 1-2 roommates max, washer + dryer, etc). Every apartment has private rooms, reliable WiFi, towels, linens, and cookware. Most accommodations also have a doorman and are located within 20 minutes walking distance of the workspace. All of your roommates are other Remote Year members on your program, and everyone is usually in close proximity to each other. So the beauty of Remote Year is that all of this is handled for you and you don't have to do research or worry about finding accommodations.
And the co-working spaces were generally nice and similar to (if not) WeWork.
There are private spaces, phone booths, common areas, etc. Most of the offices we worked out of were spacious, stylish, had 24-hour access, and had reliable WiFi. You can of course choose to work from home some days, but the office is open to your disposal as needed.
You spend one month in each city on your itinerary, and each place has a city team to guide you.
You'll have an experience manager who is in charge of things like creating events, giving recommendations, and helping with language barriers. You'll also have an operations manager who's in charge of fixing your apartment issues, getting your SIM cards, and other living logistics. They are super helpful and can help you make the most of your 30-ish days.
And if you want friends to come stay with you? No problem, but you do have a limit of 10 days visitation per month.
You'll have to register your visitors with your apartment building. They limit the number of days per month because it wouldn't be fair to your roommates nor the other RY members paying the full cost.
Remote Year has something called "tracks," which are weekday and weekend activities planned for the group (at no cost).
In every city, there is one big weekend track, which can range from white water rafting, to sand-boarding and riding dune buggies in the desert oasis, to hiking mountains and chilling at a pool. The weekday activities usually take place after work hours and consist of something unique to the local culture. For instance, in
Mexico City, we went to a Lucha Libre match. In Lima, we did a cooking class and made lomo saltado!
And they also have "plus events" which ARE an additional cost, but not mandatory.
One of my favorite plus events was riding
hot air balloons over the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico City. It cost about $150, which included the van ride roundtrip, the hot air balloon ride, a breakfast buffet, and entrance to the pyramids. Usually the plus events are super cool and fun!
You can buy SIM cards from Remote Year per month, which is about $30.
It usually comes with at least 3GB of data, and you can up the data for pretty cheap (usually). You can also ask your provider about international plans and see which is best.
For me, I suspended my service but paid AT&T $10/month to keep my phone number for later. I got a new SIM card in every country from RY, and never had to up the data. It was WAY cheaper than keeping my service active while abroad, and since I still had my actual phone number, I could use that with WhatsApp.
If you live in the US, download Venmo on your phone BEFORE you leave!
I cannot stress this enough. You need a US bank account and phone number in order for Venmo to work, but it also needs to be downloaded on your phone before you leave the country. If it's not, you will not be able to use Venmo while abroad and it will be a huge pain in the ass. Everyone uses Venmo to spot each other, and with different currencies, trying to pay someone in cash can be annoying.
Lay out all the clothes/items you plan to pack for Remote Year, and then cut it in half.
Here's the thing: You will not NEED all the things you think you do. For reference, I packed one
medium suitcase, one large weekender backpack, and a purse. You will be with the same group of people for either four or 12 months, and you'll all see each other in the same clothes. You'll lose stuff, throw shoes out, buy new shirts, etc. You will unpack your stuff in one city, and then you'll have to re-pack everything in 30 days to move to another city. You'll want to pack as light as possible and really only bring essentials. I also suggest bringing clothes that are relatively basic and you don't mind getting ruined or getting rid of.
Here's some stuff I packed that helped make my experience better!
You are not BOUND to a city. If you want to take a trip to Paris, go ahead. If you want to do a solo side trip to Brazil, no one is stopping you. If you need to go home for a week, enjoy your break!
Just know you are paying these costs out of pocket. Because you are in each country for only a month, you'll likely really want to spend time there, but you are free to make your own decisions!
One of the coolest things about doing Remote Year is getting "citizenship status." Essentially, if you complete the program you become an alumni and get benefits.
So let's say you want to visit an RY city for a month — like Tokyo, Japan. You can join the program for just that month at a discounted price and get set up with housing, workspace, and tracks. You can also re-join an entire new 4-month or 12-month itinerary for cheaper.
And another plus is having access to the Remote Year network and connecting with other nomads and travel enthusiasts.
You can learn about job opportunities, connect with other alums in your city, get recommendations for future travel plans, and meet like-minded people. This has become a primary resource for me when it comes to making vacation plans!
If you have the means and opportunity to commit to a program like Remote Year, you should 100% do it.
When you travel and work remote with a bunch of strangers, a lot of things will happen. You'll make lifelong friends. You'll get sick in a country that's not your first language. You'll hike mountains and go on adventurous side trips. You'll cry, laugh, scream, and smile. You'll love some of the people on the program, and you'll dislike others. You'll go on Tinder dates or maybe even fall in love. You'll have highs and lows, hit your breaking point, and have some of the best memories of your life. It's a life-changing experience, and you will not regret it.
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